What is a benchmark test?
Benchmark tests are just screeners. They are given to students at their grade level, three times a year, to see where they are academically compared to other students in their own grade. They are an aid to help teachers assess the on-grade performance of their students when they are unsure where their students stand academically. Benchmark tests should not be administered to a student you already know is functioning below their actual grade level.
With benchmark tests, you are looking to see if your students are performing at or below the 50th percentile, on-grade, and need assistance. These tests do not tell you what grade a student is functioning at. That can be determined by administering the various grades of progress monitoring measures. Students that are performing on or above the 50th percentile need no extra assistance and should not be receiving testing until the next benchmark testing period. Those students performing below grade should be given progress monitoring measures, along with guided instruction, in order to assist their growth in a given subject area. Benchmark tests can be found on the Teacher Deluxe accounts and are not a part of the easyCBM Lite edition.
All our measures are designed to be appropriate for students in the middle of the year at their particular grade level. Because of this, the measures may seem too difficult for students taking tests at the beginning of the school year. As the year progresses, that will level out for the students and you should see progress in their knowledge and skill base.
All of the measures in a given skill set (skill sets are: Letter Names, Phoneme Segmenting, Letter Sounds, Word Reading Fluency, Passage Reading Fluency, Proficient Reading, and each of the three math sections) are designed to be of equivalent difficulty, so if a student does poorly on one test, and then you provide targeted instruction to help him/her improve their skills, you can have them take a different form of the same test type and use that score to see if there has been improvement.
The first number of a measure indicates the grade. The second number is an arbitrary number and indicates nothing more than a way to distinguish one measure from another. The numbering of the assessments does not represent the order in which to administer them or their degree of difficulty, it’s just a way to keep track of the tests. For ease of use, we recommend beginning with form 1 and then working your way up from there as the weeks pass. It’s simply easier to remember what number comes next if you work your way up in numerical order.
For reading, the skill sets stair-step up in difficulty beginning with the fundamentals of reading: Letter Names, Phoneme Segmenting, Letter Sounds, and progressing up to the more difficult skills of Word Reading Fluency, Passage Reading Fluency, and the hardest of all, Proficient Reading.
For math, the skill sets do not stair-step up in difficulty, rather they align with set math focal point standards for each grade level. So one section of math skills will concentrate on a particular focal point, the second focal point, and the last one on the third focal point. One skill set here is not necessarily more difficult a concept than the other, just designed to test set focal point standards.
Although we don’t have a single test you can have a student take to determine the grade-level performance, there is a process you can use to help determine their skill and the most appropriate grade level assessments to use to monitor their progress.
The easyCBM assessments are built on a scale of progressive difficulty, with each grade level becoming more challenging, and each measure type within a grade level also ‘stair-stepping’ up in difficulty. For example, with a sixth-grade student, the teacher has the following tests to select from: Proficient Reading (which provides information about that student’s skill in literal, inferential, and evaluative comprehension), Basic Reading (which provides information about that students’ skill in literal comprehension of both informational and literary text), Vocabulary (which provides information about the student’s ability to make sense of words and phrases used in context), and Passage Reading Fluency (which provides information about the student’s ability to read aloud narrative text with accuracy).
The teacher might begin by administering the on-grade-level measures of Passage Reading Fluency and Proficient Reading to a student. Once the scores are in the system, the teacher should look at the student’s graph—if the score falls above the 50th percentile line, then one can say that ‘this particular skill area is not the issue’. If the student’s score falls between the 20th and 50th percentile, then one can say ‘this particular skill is an area of weakness’ and that measure type can be selected for progress monitoring.
If the student’s score falls below the 20th percentile, then the teacher knows: (a) there may be reason to suspect an even earlier skill deficit (in this case, maybe the student has never mastered phonics, so the Letter Sounds measure would be the most appropriate to use for monitoring progress while at the same time ensuring that the student is being instructed in phonics; (b) if the subsequent test of Letter Sounds (available on the K and Grade 1 “Measure” tab on easyCBM) indicates that the student is at or above the 50th percentile in that skill area, then the issue is probably not one of basic phonics, but is, instead, indicative of a need for additional fluency-building work, but at an earlier grade level (to firmly establish sight words).
If the student scored well below the 20th percentile on the 6th grade fluency measure, the teacher would likely drop 2 grades (to 4th grade)—it is likely that the student would obtain a score that falls between the 20th and 50th percentile lines—this is the range at which the measures on easyCBM are most sensitive to growth/most appropriate to use. If the student’s score is right at or just below the 20th percentile on the 6th grade measure, teachers can bump the student down to the 5th grade form of that measure instead.
The goal is twofold: to determine what underlying skill deficit might be leading to the student’s “not proficient” score and to identify the appropriate measure to use to monitor the student’s improving skill as he/she receives targeted intervention/instruction aimed at addressing those skill deficits.
In all cases, the teacher needs to assist the student in moving up to the most challenging grade-level tests they can, as quickly as they can, but each student’s trajectory is likely to be slightly different (it will depend on their level of initial skill/underlying skill deficits; the intensity of intervention provided to him/her; his/her ability to benefit from that particular intervention [as well as motivation to improve]; attendance [a student must be present to benefit from instruction], etc.).
For a 6th grader who requires intensive instruction in phonics (Letter Sounds), it is unlikely teachers will be able to make up all the ground they need to get her to on-grade level comprehension by the end of the year, but teachers can certainly make good progress toward that goal, with the intention to continue to make progress in subsequent grades.
Letter Sounds/basic phonics is a skill area in which the teacher should be able to see dramatic improvement in a matter of weeks for older students. This assumes that intensive and appropriate instructional intervention is being provided to ensure the student acquires the skills they missed. Ideally, older students (grade 2 and above) should move from the 10th to the 50th percentile on the Letter Sounds measure in a month’s time or less.
Building fluency takes longer, but average growth is about four to six words correct per minute per week for students who are far behind their peers AND who are receiving instructional interventions specifically targeting fluency building (repeated readings, choral readings, reading aloud to younger children/parents/mentors, etc.). The teacher should see student rate of growth exceed six words correct per minute per week; otherwise, the student is not ‘catching up’ but merely maintaining the existing gap.
For low performing students, the teacher should select an out-of-grade-level fluency measure but move the student up to the next grade level up as soon as he/she performs at the 50th percentile mark. For example, if the teacher starts a 6th grade student on the Grade 2 Passage Reading Fluency measures, the student should be ready to move to the Grade 3 Passage Reading Fluency measures after four to six weeks of intensive fluency building work (designed to reinforce phonics for unfamiliar words and to move additional words into her sight vocabulary through repeated exposure).
Once a student is reading fluently at grade level (50th percentile mark on grade-level Passage Reading Fluency measures), they probably have sufficient fluency skill to be able to start focusing more on comprehension. Until they are at that threshold, it’s likely that the student’s working memory capacity is allocated to decoding unfamiliar words rather than attending to the “bigger picture” of actual comprehension, except at the most literal level. Once a student is able to read more fluently, he/she is able to focus on making meaning from the words in the text and can begin to focus on inferential and evaluative, as well as literal comprehension.
Where do I find and how do I use the progress monitoring scoring guidelines?
Looking at the Progress Monitor Scoring Guidelines, here is how you find the percentile rank ‘goes with’ a particular score:
1. Find the measure you are interested in
2. Find the grade you are interested in
3. Find the “benchmark” season you are interested in
4. Find the “score” you are interested in (4th column in) or the “Percentile” you are interested in and
5. Look up the ‘Percentile” (if you were trying to figure out what specific percentile rank goes with a particular score) or
6. Look up the ‘Score’ (if you were trying to figure out what specific score goes with a particular percentile rank).